IACHR

Press Release

IACHR Condemns Killings of Women and Urges States to Intensify Prevention Efforts

May 16, 2017

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María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
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mrivero@oas.org

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reiterates its call for States to adopt urgent gender-based measures to prevent, investigate, and punish all killings against women. The IACHR expresses its deep concern over information it continues to receive about alarming murders and acts of physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women that continue to take place throughout the hemisphere.

The IACHR draws attention to some recent examples of the violent environment for women in the Americas. The Commission learned of the death in Argentina of Micaela García, who was found dead on April 7 in Gualeguay, showing signs of strangulation and sexual violence. Micaela worked as an activist and was part of a movement called Ni Una Menos [Not One Less]. In Brazil, Ismara Filier was killed on January 1, along with her 8-year-old son and 10 other people, at the hands of her ex-husband in Campinas, São Paulo. On January 2, Renata Rodríguez Aureliano was also killed by her former spouse in Minas Gerais, Brazil. In Colombia, Claudia Rodríguez was killed on April 10 by her ex-husband after she reported his threats and acts of harassment to the authorities; meanwhile, on April 11, Elcy Yamile Olaya Bolívar was killed by her partner in Comuna 15, in Medellín. In the United States, Karen Smith, a teacher, was killed by her husband at a school in San Bernardino, California, in an incident on April 10 that also left an 8-year-old boy dead and a 9-year-old boy wounded. In Mexico, the Comission learned of the murder of Lesby Berlin Osorio, 22 years old, on April 3. Her body was found next to a phone booth on the premises of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), strangled with the phone cable. A few weeks earlier, the charred body of 18-year-old Lizbeth Sánchez was found on April 9; she had been reported missing two days earlier. Also in Mexico, Martha Estela Sosa was shot to death by her husband on January 30. In Trinidad, Jamilia Derevenax was killed at a movie theater on February 5.

The IACHR emphasizes, as this institution has done many times before, that these killings are not an isolated problem and are symptomatic of a pattern that affects the whole of the Americas.

The IACHR notes that there are multiple structural factors contributing to the repeated killings of women. Machismo, patriarchy, and sexist stereotypes continue to place women at increased risk of extreme forms of violence. Moreover, the historical discrimination enmeshed in the social fabric throughout the Americas contribute to restricting their autonomy in areas such as sexual and reproductive health and the exercise of all their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. There is also a social tolerance of violence against women in all its dimensions —physical, psychological, sexual, and economic violence, among others—  and the great majority of these acts continue to go unpunished, without a timely and serious response from police and judicial authorities.

Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, in her role as Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, said: “States in the Americas have employed an array of significant legislative and institutional efforts to prevent and respond to the killings of women. However, these efforts fall short. It is also necessary to address the discriminatory sociocultural patterns that lead to the consolidation of a violent and dangerous social environment for women. These patterns are evident within the family and in contexts such as education, health, employment, and prisons, among other spheres of public life in the countries in the region.”

The IACHR likewise expresses its concern over the intersectional nature of the risk experienced by women, given the confluence of a variety of identities and factors that exacerbate violations of their rights to life, to integrity, and to non-discrimination. Variables such as ethnicity, race, age, and sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as living with a disability or as a migrant, can increase a woman’s risk of being killed and victimized.

In this regard, the IACHR is alarmed by the continued killings of lesbian and trans women in the region. During this period in particular, the IACHR condemns the killing of Alphonza Watson, a 38-year-old trans woman in the United States, on March 22, and the killing of Susana Sanhueza, a 22-year-old lesbian woman in Chile, on March 7. The IACHR also rejects the killing of Sherlyn Montoya, a trans woman and defender of the human rights of trans persons in Honduras, who belonged to the organization Muñecas de Arcoris [Rainbow Dolls]; her body was found on April 4 with signs of torture and strangulation. The IACHR also condemns the physical attack that resulted in the death on April 12 of Hérica Izidório, 24, a trans woman in Brazil; she died after having been hospitalized and in a coma for two months. The Commission has also received troubling information concerning killings of individuals who defy traditional norms of dress and wear clothing that society identifies as “feminine.” Along these lines, the IACHR was informed about the killing of 45-year-old Hipólito Ramírez Calderón “Polo,” a sex worker in Mexico whose body was found with signs of gunshots at his place of work on March 19. The Inter-American Commission calls on the States to investigate these incidents within a reasonable time frame, opening proper lines of investigation that consider the possibility that these killings could have occurred due to motives related to the victims’ sexual orientation or gender identity, real or perceived. The Commission also calls on the States to adopt effective measures to ensure that these incidents do not go unpunished.

At the same time, the IACHR deeply laments the murders of girls and adolescents that have come to its attention during this period, deaths that have been accompanied by acts of terrible cruelty and sexual violence. The IACHR deplores the killing of  Florencia Di Marco, 12, in San Luis, Argentina, at the hands of her stepfather and the killing of Ornella Dottori, 16, whose body was found in Tucumán, after she had been missing since April 12; and the killing and rape of Yuliana Samboní, who was 7 years old, in Bogotá, Colombia, on December 4, 2016. The condition of girls and female adolescents makes them more vulnerable to extreme forms of violence, sexual violence, and killings; according to the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, this means that States have a reinforced obligation of protection, to prevent, protect, investigate, punish, and repair the harm.

The IACHR also underscores States’ heightened duty to prevent and protect in relation to women with disabilities, older women, women in a context of mobility, women who are members of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities, and women human rights defenders. Women and girls with disabilities run a high risk of suffering violence, exploitation and sexual abuse. In addition, they are at higher risk to find obstacles to the full enjoyment of their fundamental rights, such as access to justice, lack of appropriate health services and absence of accessibility measures, limited political participation or institutionalization without consent. The IACHR has also received information indicating that older women often encounter forms of abuse, abandonment, neglect, mistreatment and violence, and a significant number of obstacles to the exercise of all their human rights.

The Commission has documented how migrant women tend to be victims of various forms of gender-based violence, including sexual, physical, and psychological violence along the entire migration continuum (origin, transit, destination, and return). Women migrants are particularly at risk of fall victim of human trafficking for sexual exploitation, forced prostitution, labor exploitation, disappearances and femicides.

The IACHR has also received information this year indicating urgent situation of women, adolescents, and girls of African descent in the hemisphere. Women of African descent are among the most marginalized social groups in the region, their possibilities of accessing education, employment, and health are limited, and they face multiple obstacles to accessing the services they need in the area of sexual and reproductive health.

The IACHR also encourages States to pay special attention to the situation of women deprived of liberty. In the case of women the conditions of custody take on their own dimensions, resulting in specific, disproportionately serious violations of their rights because of their sex and gender status.

In several countries in the hemisphere, women human rights defenders are still exposed on an ongoing basis to killings and multiple violations of their human rights when they defy the stereotypical conceptions of gender attributed to their sex. The Commission reiterates that all women have the right to defend and promote human rights, and urges the States to address the contexts that heighten female defenders’ risk of being killed, harassed, or criminalized.

The IACHR today urges States to adopt immediate and urgent measures to prevent, investigate, prosecute, punish, and remedy all killings and acts of violence against women. This includes adopting comprehensive prevention measures that are drawn up with the participation of the women beneficiaries and that include an important component geared toward eliminating all stereotypes and patterns of discrimination against women, as established in Article 6 of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, “Convention of Belém do Pará.”

The prevention measures should be based on gender and should take into account all risk factors and the pattern of historical discrimination and subordination that continues to negatively affect women, and should aim to ensure not only women’s equality, but also their empowerment and autonomy. The participation of women in the design of legislation, policies, and services is essential for these to be effective.

The IACHR also reiterates the need for all killings of women to be investigated promptly and thoroughly so that these crimes do not remain unpunished; in addition, victims’ family members should be treated with dignity and respect during the justice process. Finally, the IACHR underscores the need for States to provide transformative reparations, to eliminate the patterns and structural causes that heighten discrimination and violence against women.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 062/17